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Nuclear Waste vs Coal Plants

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 09:24 -- Dan McCaffery

I ate lunch in my backyard three times last month, basking in warm sunshine without wearing a winter coat or even a jacket. One day, with the temperature sitting at 19 C, I raked leaves while wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt.

This was during the middle of February. Such conditions were absolutely unheard of in Sarnia for most of my lifetime. During one winter in the 1960s, we had an outdoor skating rink on Briarfield Avenue for seven solid weeks.

Which brings me to the topic of climate change. Only the most deceived of fools would deny that it’s taking place. And that despite the lower energy bills, it’s probably not a good thing for our planet.

So I can’t get too worked up by the fact that Ontario has phased out coal-fired plants. Not too many years ago, those facilities provided almost 20 per cent of the province’s power. But coal, along with other fossil fuels, is causing the climate change that will, if left unchecked, make planet Earth uninhabitable in the not-too-distant future.

Having said that, however, I recognize that there are problems with other power sources. Nuclear power, which provides Ontario with more than half of its electricity needs, certainly has its share of critics. And there are people who oppose wind and solar projects as well.

But we have to get power from somewhere and, if it’s not going to be coal, nuclear plants will have to play a major role for many years to come. Other sources just won’t meet our needs by themselves.

And that brings me to Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley’s opposition to the idea of shipping nuclear waste from Ontario to a disposal site in South Carolina. Bradley fears radioactive liquid from the Chalk River reactor could pass into the United States via the Blue Water Bridge. An accident, he points out, could pollute local water supplies.

Such fears are not unfounded. Some 150 truckloads of nuclear waste could pass through our city over the next four years. Although an accident may be unlikely, it is far from impossible.

But my question is, if we don’t support nuclear power and we’ve phased out coal, where are we going to get our electricity from?

The truth is that we’re going to have to live with some risks for a long time to come.

I have read that in the future vast solar farms in North Africa could supply all the power needs of Europe, while similar gigantic farms in the American south could do the same thing for most of North America.

Maybe. But until those facilities come on line (and they may never appear) we’ll have to depend at least partly on other sources.

Personally, I’d rather take my chances with the transportation of nuclear waste than to fire up our coal plants again.

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